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Marine veteran reunited with military dog after years apart

CHICAGO — A U.S. Marine veteran from Albany Park was reunited with an old military buddy at Midway Airport Tuesday, and the wagging tail and kisses prove that absence makes the hound grow fonder.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but 8-year-old U.S. Marine canine Atilla R7-89 still had one surprise for his old partner. The german shepherd and trained tracker worked with Marine Sgt. Jacob Varela for three years in a special operations unit.

The two formed a lasting bond, but have not seen each other since July of 2017.

"We were together for everything everywhere I went out in the field," Varela told WGN. "If I was drinking water, he was drinking water; he's an actual teammate."

Military dogs do demanding and draining work, and eventually the dogs have to retire. When Sgt. Varela learned Atilla could no longer work, he wanted to adopt his old buddy. That’s where a group called Mission K-9 Rescue stepped in, doing whatever it took to bring the old partners back together.

“These dogs serve with these guys, there’s a bond that we can’t understand,” said Kristen Maurer, Mission K-9 Rescue.

When Southwest Airlines Flight 7 from Houston arrived, it was clear: this dog's bark was worth its flight.

Sgt. Varela is now out of the Marines and is a full time student. While he’s working on a college degree, he says Atilla has earned a relaxing retirement.

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